Burkinabe Preschoolers Get Head Start Through “Bisongos”

UNICEF did this story on a CRS education program in Burkina Faso that we wanted to pass along.

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Young children crowd into a community-built early education center, known as a ‘bisongo,’ in Burkina Faso. Photo from UNICEF Video.

by Jean-Jacques Nduita

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, 26 June 2007 – — It is school time in the Ouagadougou suburbs. Little children sitting in a ‘bisongo’ – — a community-based learning center supported by UNICEF and Catholic Relief Services, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization – — are writing numbers on their individual slates.

Five-year-old Emilienne Dabgo proudly holds up her slate. “Great, good job. Well done,” her teacher says.
Emilienne’s work has inspired the other children to emulate her, even though most of them are only three 3 years old.
In Ouagadougou and many others Burkinabe cities, children between the ages of three 3 and six 6 can now enroll in pre-school education through structures such as this bisongo. These centers aim to prepare youngsters for entry into primary school. Children in the bisongos get not only an education but also a midday meal – — something of a rarity for schoolchildren here.

In addition, teaching at the bisongos is done in Mòooreé, the local language spoken in this part of the country, as opposed to French, which is official language of Burkina Faso.

“Children learn their lessons better if they are taught in their mother tongue rather than in French, which is generally not spoken in most homes,” says the supervisor of the Yamtega Bisongo in Ouagadougou, Juliette Ouédraogo. “Yet the bisongo approach does not necessarily exclude French from its program; the children are taught at least some rudiments of it.”

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Children at the bisongo receive a much-appreciated midday meal. Photo: UNICEF video.

Children at the bisongo receive a much-appreciated midday meal. Photo: from UNICEF video.
While they provide definite benefits to the community, bisongos also pose some serious management challenges. As community-based schools, they do not benefit from any subsidy, making it harder for them to fulfill their mission and ensure quality education.

Community members maintain the schools through a monthly contribution of $1 to $2 per household, but in this country’s hardship-plagued regions, food – — let alone money – — is a commodity many often go without. In fact, the teachers at the bisongos, affectionately referred to as ‘little mothers,’ generally do not receive their small, symbolic salary on a regular basis.
Still, bisongo coordinators are determined to take up all the challenges associated with early childhood education here and ensure that the joy of the children in the centers will not be eroded by financial problems. They have pledged to do their best in the hope of receiving more support so that Emilienne and the other young children of Burkina Faso can achieve their dreams.
This article was reprinted with the permission of UNICEF.

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